Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

Crockpotting 24/7

Filed under: Cooking - Folkcat in the Kitchen,Retired - The Life & Times of a Winged Cat — folkcat at 10:43 pm on Wednesday, June 29, 2005

So I told you folks all about the applesauce yesterday, complete with the picture of simultaneous crockpotting (it took a 6-qt. and a 4-qt. working together to accommodate all the apples!).

I was eventually able to combine both pots together into the 6-qt. after the apples cooked down some. I kept the pot going for 8 hours on low; that cooked the apples enough I didn’t need to mash them or anything, they just fell apart on their own.

The finished product, deep golden brown

Folkcat’s Tip: My applesauce tip yesterday was about adding vanilla to the applesauce to mellow the flavor. Today’s tip offers an interesting alternative to the traditional cinnamon flavor. Pick up a jar of Chinese Five Spice blend. (You can also find this in the ethnic department at your supermarket, or your local Asian market.)This mix actually has more than five spices – they include cinnamon, star anise, and pepper, among others! Don’t let that deter you, however – try it out, and I promise, you’ll be delighted with the resulting applesauce.

Double-teaming the applesauce wasn’t my only crockpot trick yesterday – I made a good stab at round-the-clock crocking! The applesauce finished up after 9 p.m. – by midnight, I had the large crockpot cleaned and loaded with 4 lbs. of chicken leg quarters to cook! I’m planning to make a Rosemary Chicken Brown Rice Soup (another of my own recipes), and needed some cooked chicken and some stock to work with. With 10 hours on low needed, the chicken was ready at the perfect time this morning for us to remove it from the crock and dissassemble it. And we got 4 cups of flavorful stock to boot!

I promise, folks, I’ll start posting recipes as soon as I have them developed. The Rosemary Chicken Rice Soup is a new one I’m planning, not one I’ve made yet. And the Lemon Chicken Chickpea Soup I have to make again so I can make notes about quantities – it was one I made to use up leftovers in the fridge, so I didn’t pay close attention as I created it the first time!

Paper is Fiber, Too!

Filed under: Crafting Miscellany,Papercraft,Retired - Folkcat's Fiber Crafts — folkcat at 10:28 pm on Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I recently got a Mizuhiki cord kit from Crafter’s Choice. For those who haven’t heard of it, Mizuhiki is a thin, strong paper cord made in Japan. It’s used to tie decorative knots for traditional ceremonial greetings, and I hear it’s also used by Sumo wrestlers to tie their hair!

The kit included 3 packages of Mizuhiki cords (10 36″ cords ea.), a booklet with instructions for a number of knots, and a roll of double-sided tape for adhering the knots to greeting cards, packages, barettes, etc.

Learning to tie Mizuhiki is for the patient, I found last night. It took me over an hour to create the two knots shown here:

Labor-intensive Knotting!

What you do, as a beginner, is you shape one cord into the form of the desired knot. Then you weave, one by one, additional cords into the same pattern, aligning them with the first as you go. It’s tricky to hold the loops in place at first, but the more cords you add, the better it looks and the better it holds together.

Clamshell Knot

Abalone Knot

The various knots seem to be named after seashells or flowers – at least those I’ve seen so far. I’m not sure how much more I’ll be able to do before exhausing the kit, though – these two knots alone used up 10 cords, about a third of those supplied.

I don’t think there’s any risk of Mizuhiki becoming a major technique for me. But I’m pleased I had the chance to get this kit inexpensively, and to introduce myself to yet another aspect of the Japanese art and culture I so admire.

About recent photo postings

Filed under: Folkcat's Fotos — folkcat at 10:06 pm on Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It may be obvious to viewers that the most recent entry in this blog, “Nashua Telegraph Amateur Photo Contest”, displayed photos that were obviously grainier, lower-resolution than previous posts. That’s because I’m using a new post editor, BlogWrite. BlogWrite is a WYSIWYG editor that gives me a larger edit window than Blogger’s online editor, and makes it easier to upload multiple photos.

It’s a new product and still in development, so there are bugs – like the quality of uploaded images – that are being worked out. But the folks at Zoundry (BlogWrite’s creators) tell me that they have image quality on the priority list.

Meanwhile, if you want to see a really, really good view of any of the images in the last post, just click on the picture, and you’ll be taken to a full-size view that you can even zoom in on.

From the Beading Bookshelf

Filed under: Beading - Confessions of a Chantraphile,Folkcat's Craft Library — folkcat at 9:54 pm on Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My latest bead-related acquisition is a new book, The Art of Beadwork by Valery Hector. This is a feast for the eyes, and a delight to anyone interested in historical, ethnic, or contemporary beadwork.

The Art of Beadwork manages to be simultaneously a historical retrospective, a look at the use of beads in different world cultures, and an examination of the influence these factors have on contemporary bead artists. It is divided by cultural region – Asian Influences, for instance – and categorized by sub-cultures within those regions. There is discussion of the meaning and use of beads in those cultures, with photos of both beaded pieces and the beadworkers, followed by text about a contemporary artist who is inspired by the culture. Most sections then have a project that will help the reader to create, if not a whole piece, at least a sample that gives them a good grounding in the cultural technique and style, as interpreted by the contemporary artist.

One of the unique aspects of this book is the many contemporary bead artists who are featured with projects based on their work – some of them artists from whom we really never see projects for the masses. Joyce Scott, for instance, a Baltimore, Maryland beader whose pieces often depict human figures, often with themes related to African-American history. The example shown of her work is called “‘Til All Are Free, None Are Free”. It is a necklace depicting a black slave being held captive with chains and a strong-looking human arm. The necklace is deliberately made uncomfortably small, to help convey the theme to the wearer.

The representative project for this piece is a pair of earings, in peyote stitch, called “Bound”. One earring depicts a knotted rope such as might tie a slave; the other shows the black slave with hands bound by a similar rope.

A section on Xhosa Beadwork of South Africa shows a picture of Nelson Mandela in the early 1960s, wearing tribal garments that include a Thembu beadwork collar. The accompanying text discusses the trial of Mandela in 1962. We are told how he entered the courtroom to stand trial, “dressed not in the Western-style clothing of his white oppressors, but in the traditional attire of a South African chief.”

The contemporary bead artist inspired by this section is the author herself, Valerie Hector. We are shown details of Xhosa beaded collars created in double-layer scallop stitch. Then, as we turn the page, we see a stunning photo of a model dressed in simple black, wearing Hector’s contemporary interpretation of the double-layer scallop stitch technique – a long, drapey piece down to the knees called “Red Ribbon” Necklace. 3″ wide and 73″ long, it’s stitched with needle and thread using red cylinder beads.

The project we are offered teaches us how to make a sample of the necklace, followed by guidelines for then creating a complete full-size reproduction.

I am in awe of this book. The survey of beadwork through history and across the world is inspiring, and the many techniques and projects are a virtual master-level course in the possibilities of seed beads. I intend to approach this as though I’m taking a series of classes, working my way through the lessons and learning more than I could ever have imagined possible in one book.

In case you couldn’t tell – I highly recommend this book!

Quirky Quiche and Accidental Applesauce

Filed under: Cooking - Folkcat in the Kitchen,Retired - The Life & Times of a Winged Cat — folkcat at 2:58 pm on Tuesday, June 28, 2005

More culinary adventures the last day or two. Gryphon and I had talked this weekend about the fact that we both like quiche, and I used to make it now and then. Plus, it’s a good way to use up scraps of vegetables, cheese, and meat in a nutritious meal.

I picked up some deep-dish frozen pie shells – I tend to overstuff my quiche, so I always need the extra room. Monday, I made my first quiche in many years using some shredded chicken from the fridge, some canned asparagus tips, and assorted chunks of cheese (we’d recently bought some cheese ends, in preparation for making crockpot macaroni and cheese later this week).

Day 2 – all that’s left of the chicken/cheese/asparagus quiche.

In spite of a little trouble with our electric oven (there’s an oddity to trying to cook two separate things sequentially that sometimes keeps the oven from continuing to heat for the second item), the quiche turned out quite tasty. The canned asparagus tips turned out to be more mushy than I anticipated, but they were tasty in the end result. Obviously, fresh vegetables will be preferred where possible.

Today’s plan was to gather ingredients for a rosemary chicken soup. We still have lots of carrots and celery from the split pea recipe, but we were low on shredded chicken. Off to Market Basket to buy another bbq chicken in the day-old bin!

Or so we thought. Turns out there weren’t any today. So we scouted around the poultry coolers, and we settled on a 4-lb. package of leg quarters for 69cents a pound that I knew I could cook in the larger crockpot. The cooking time is actually long enough I can put these on just before we go to bed tonight, and they’ll be all set for Gryphon to take apart in the morning. We’ll freeze the bones to make chicken stock with, too!

Other than that, I am developing the instinct to look for “manager’s specials” in the produce department – vegetables and fruit on their last legs that are being blown out at bargain prices. Today’s find was two nearly 4-lb. packages of apples. There was enough bruising that no one would want to eat these out of hand anymore, but they’re perfectly good for applesauce!

We dug out and dusted off our apple peeler/corer gadget. Talk about paradigm shift – it was only a couple months ago we said, “heck, what are the odds we’ll make applesauce again?” and put it in a box for yard sale goods! Guess we’re changing out tune on that…

I washed the apples and cranked for a bit, putting the peeled slices into the big crockpot. As I suspected, there was too big a load for just the one crockpot, so we have our first dual-crockpot recipe going:

Crockpots team up to conquer the applesauce

I’ll probably be able to combine the contents into one later after the apples cook down some. But we’re going to have a heckuva pile of homemade applesauce!

Folkcat’s Tip: A little vanilla extract in the applesauce gives a nice, mellow edge to the flavor. Great for counteracting apples that are too tart, without having to add extra sugar!

Modern Day Quarters and Ancient Gravestones

Filed under: Folkcat & Gryphon's Geocaching Adventures — folkcat at 10:26 pm on Monday, June 27, 2005

(Click on any picture to get a larger view.)

This past Saturday, Gryphon and I went off to Hollis to find The State Quarter Microcache. This cache is a clever one – the container is tiny, and very well hidden, but the clues to find it are dead on – so to speak! The location is pretty cool – it’s in an old cemetery that has a mysterious tale!

The concept of the cache is simple – the container is a tiny dental floss package, and all that will fit in it is a quarter. The cache owners have declared it a swapping point for the state quarters that have been coming out for several years now, and they maintain a list of the quarters that have passed through the box at the listing for the cache (see link above).

Small cemeteries like this are one of New England’s charms

Officially, this is called the Pine Hill Cemetery. Locally, though, it’s known as Blood Cemetery. Some of the most prominent gravesites contain members of the Blood family, you see – some of them among the oldest burials in the cemetery. Among them is one Abel Blood, who was buried in 1867. (His father, also called Abel Blood, was buried nearby in 1820.)

Folkcat communes with an Abel Blood – but which one?

Abel Blood the younger has a decoratively carved headstone, with an image unique in all of the cemetery. At the top of the stone, a hand points heavenward. At least, in daylight hours it does. The story is that at nighttime, the hand can be found pointing in quite the opposite direction!

Gryphon checks on the Abel Blood story

We were there on a bright, sunny day, and we noticed nothing unusual. We spent some time looking around at the interesting carvings on the stones. Weeping willows are classic mourning imagery from the 1800’s, and they were present on several stones.

Three versions of weeping willows, dated (1) 1817, (2) 1827, and (3) 1844

Due to the heat, this was the only geocache we did this day. But it was a clever one, it took us off the beaten path to a lovely and sentimental location that we would never have known existed, and we got to do one of our favorite things – spend time together!

Happy Caching!

WIP Socks and a Magical Darning Egg

Filed under: Crafting Miscellany,Knitting,Retired - Folkcat's Fiber Crafts — folkcat at 6:50 pm on Monday, June 27, 2005

I finally finished Sock Experiment 3 (SE3) last week. I now have a pair of socks that I knit myself for the first time!

Bright Colored Tootsie Covers
(Click on pictures for a larger view)

Having tasted success, I of course have moved straight on to….Sock Experiment 4!

This time, I’m using that Sockotta yarn that comes out in blue, gray, purple, and mottled stripes. I could have kept things easy and done a repeat of the Simply Splendid Socks from Cool Socks, Warm Feet – but no, I’ve proven I can do that one now! So I moved a few pages further through the book and chose the Toe-up Socks with the Bosnian Square Toe, the Turkish Heel, and the Crenellated Top Edge.

SE4, off to a good beginning.

I’m also using a much smaller needle this time. SE1 – SE3 were all done on an Inox Size 2. This time, I’m working with a Bates Size 00 to get a denser knit.

A close-up of the color pattern.

Something else I learned while making these first socks – a darning egg can be your best friend when you’re weaving in ends! I looked at those available in a few yarn shops, and always felt that they were just too small to count – I have size 10 WW feet, after all! So I decided I was going to have to make my own darning egg.

I went to A.C.Moore and got some wood parts – a finial ball, and a miniature bowling pin to serve as a handle. Gryphon picked up some double-ended screws to attach them together with. Then, of course, being me, I couldn’t just sand and stain them. No, not Folkcat! I had to get my paints out and start playing! Here are some views of what I wound up with.

The egg, the whole egg…

I decided to give the egg a nice, glassy finish, so I used about six coats of high-gloss polyurethane on the entire thing. That’s why there’s a lot of glare in the photos, even though I turned off the flash.

I painted the detail design using paint pens. It’s no particular symbolism or image – just doodles that I made up as I went.

A close up of the design.

I’ve always believed that you should use the best tools you can if you want to enjoy your work. Apart from just having a solid, functional design, for me that also means that they should be appealing to the eye. I had lots of fun painting this one, and I may have created an auxiliary addiction to the sock knitting – I have ideas for more painted egg designs bouncing around my head already!

Nashua Telegraph Amateur Photo Contest

Filed under: Folkcat's Fotos — folkcat at 4:18 pm on Monday, June 27, 2005

I’m giving serious thought to entering this year. The Nashua NH Telegraph holds this contest each summer to choose photos for their annual Family Calendar that they publish. I’ve been taking so many good shots lately that I think fit their needs that I may just submit a few myself.

We’re allowed to submit up to four photos. Here are some that I’m considering:

A nice close-up of a maple tree growing near my home in Wilton.

A river bend on the Contoocook River Trail, Hillsboro, NH.

The Stone Bridge as seen from Emerson Park, Milford, NH.

A poppy at its peak in a garden in Wilton, NH.

The Wilton Scenic RR awaits passengers for another trip, Wilton, NH.

One of Wilton’s Whimsical People gets ready to ride the rails, Wilton, NH.

Paradigm Shift Pea Soup

Filed under: Cooking - Folkcat in the Kitchen,Retired - The Life & Times of a Winged Cat — folkcat at 10:36 pm on Sunday, June 26, 2005

For those who don’t know what that means, a paradigm shift occurs when your reality, your core beliefs, or your perception of your reality undergoes a change.

Gryphon and I have been undergoing a paradigm shift lately. A big one. It started with closing our bead store after 2 1/2 years, and it has continued as we transition from people who did almost nothing but work at that store, to people who have time to work on their lives.

My diet had already changed in a small way after my diagnosis of diabetes back in December. Recently, Gryphon and I have been trying to make even more improvements in how we eat, as well as how much we spend. We decided to find a way to make better food without spending all our time in the kitchen.

We have had a crockpot for some time, and this proved to be the right idea. I began by adapting an old microwave recipe for Sloppy Joes that we had always enjoyed. Success! It was tasty, inexpensive, and healthier than those frozen packaged foods. And the batch was large enough that we still have some in the freezer!

The next day, I created a soup recipe out of my own imagination in the crockpot. The goal was to use up a bag of broccoli slaw I had in the fridge that was getting old. I envisioned a chicken soup, but not an ordinary chicken soup – mine would have lemon juice in it, and couscous, and chickpeas, and lots of dill.

I’ve never seen a recipe quite like what I came up with, but my imagination proved right on target – everyone who has tasted my lemon chicken chickpea soup has loved it! I need to try to nail down the exact ingredients now so that I can post a recipe. I promise, I’ll work on it – I have already had requests!

Having had this much success, Gryphon and I decided we’d try to do at least one crockpot recipe each weekend, something to eat for one meal right away with leftovers. I browsed recipes on the web, and found several for split pea soup – a favorite of mine. Gryphon doesn’t care for it, but I can do something specially for him next time.

So I made my shopping list, gathered up the ingredients, and Saturday night we went to assemble the materials. That’s when we looked closely at the recipe and realized…it needed a larger crockpot than we owned! Our largest was only 4 quarts, and the recipe needed 5 1/2. I tried to consider reducing the recipe, but just how do you measure out 5/8 of a ham hock?!?

Drat, and double-drat! We sat down and thought about how to deal with this. A little research on the web revealed the price range we could expect for a 6 quart crockpot. Gryphon, as tight as the budget is, nevertheless agreed that he was willing for us to buy a tool for something that is working so well for us. But how long were we willing to wait for a crockpot to arrive in the mail?

Then we remembered – even though it was 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, we had an option: there’s a 24-hour WalMart nearby! So off we went on an appliance buying expedition.

It worked out as well for us as the cooking had. We found a discontinued model of the Rival 6-qt. Smart Crock on the shelf at a good bargain. (The one pictured at the left is fundamentally the same as ours, only it’s chrome where ours is white.) The Smart Crock actually has pre-programmed settings for the most commonly used time and temperature combinations – High for either 4- or 6-hours, or Low for 8- or 10- hours. After the set time is reached, it goes into a Keep Warm mode. So if you wind up getting home even later than expected, you can rest assured that your dinner won’t get overcooked in the crock!

Properly equipped now, we went ahead this morning with the fixings for my pea soup. The house smelled wonderful all day as it simmered away. I picked up a nice sourdough boule from the supermarket to slice up and eat with it for dinner, and brother, was that heavenly! I have 5 pints of the stuff ready to go into the freezer now.

Oh, yeah…here’s what it looked like. The ham hocks were very meaty, I was impressed.

I don’t expect I’ll be posting the recipe for this one – I got it at RecipeZaar, if you’re interested. They have at least a dozen different postings of split pea soup recipes for the crockpot, and they all look tasty.

Beadworks in Progress (BIP) – Delica Tags

Filed under: Beading - Confessions of a Chantraphile — folkcat at 6:24 pm on Saturday, June 25, 2005

I haven’t been working on my beadwork quite as often as I used to. When I still had the bead store, beadwork was nearly the only crafting I did. Since we closed the store at Easter, though, a lot of other crafts I used to do (and a few new ones) have found their way back into my schedule.

Still, I have beadwork projects in progress at all times. One that will take a long time to complete is my Delica tags.

My favorite beading techniques involved seed beads stitched together using needle and thread. These include loomwork, peyote stitch, and brick stitch, among others. Delica beads, made by the Miyuki company in Japan, have a cylindrical shape that well suits these techniques, they’re made in a large variety of colors, and those colors come numbered much the way DMC embroidery floss does. (The company website is in Japanese, but there are some page titles in English, the pictures are still great, and an English version is under construction!)

As an embroiderer knows, having the sample book for embroidery floss helps to plan a project and choose colors. There are sample cards for Delica beads, too, but they tend to cost a lot of money (enough to buy several colors of the beads in usable quantities), and they consist of a string of beads less than an inch long for each color, stitched to a card. Not easy to really see how the colors will look when they’re worked in a project.

In an early issue of Bead & Button magazine, I saw an idea for making sample tags of the colors of Delica beads you own, and organizing them on a ring. The tags are a simple peyote stitch rectangle (mine are 18 beads wide). For mine, I decrease the top on one side after the 28th row, and when it gets to about a third of the original width, I string 20 beads and anchor the thread to make a hanging loop.

Obviously, this is a long term project. When I’m up to full speed, I can make one of these tags in about 45 minutes. And I have plenty of other things I’m working on, too, so it’s not like this gets my full attention.

Here’s what the full collection of completed rings on the tag looked like the last time I worked on them, a couple of months ago. I think were were about 75 of them complete at this time.

At the bottom of the picture, you can see the beginnings of the next tag in progress.

For those who want to make their own tags, there is no published pattern for these, but you might be able to make out the details well enough in this close-up shot to figure out the size and shape for yourself:

The labels are dumbbell-shaped jewelry tags that I mark with the Delica color number and thread through the hanging loop. All tags are worked with white size D Nymo thread, because that’s a type of thread I most commonly use in my beadwork. Dark threads will tend to show through the beads and will distort the colors, so unless you use them routinely and need to see how that looks, I would recommend sticking to white thread.

Now that I’m posting to Confessions of a Chantraphile regularly, maybe I’ll get my beadwork back into the crafting rotation a little more often.

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